Bravery. It gives athletes the ability to face their challenges head on and compete at such high levels.
From football to extreme skiing, it is one of the tying threads within all sports. But for cyclists, it’s one of the key elements that can make or break a rider’s success.
Good thing Nevada City local Morgan Smith has more bravery and dedication than many of her counterparts. At 17 years old, the young cyclist is already finding her way to the podium in her high school varsity cross country mountain bike races and within the professional enduro circuit.
But, compared to her fellow racers, Smith is extremely new to the professional cycling world.
“I only started riding my sophomore year of high school,” said Smith. “My brother (Austin Smith) had started riding his freshman year and racing his sophomore year, and every year he was racing people were trying to convince me to start riding, but I was terrified.”
Eventually Smith gave in to the peer pressure and attended the Women’s Mountain Bike Clinic in Nevada City her sophomore year, a clinic that brings together women cyclists of all levels once a year to learn skills for a weekend. From that moment on, she fell head over heels for mountain biking, joining the team right then and there.
Riding on a borrowed bike, Smith started her racing career in the NorCal High School Cross Country League.
“At first it was recreational, like, oh I’ll do the team a bit,” said Smith, “but as the season went on and on, it became something I knew I’d do outside of high school.”
Smith threw herself into her training, finishing closer and closer to podium with every race. Her high school team became her closest friends and family, and she found a new, friendly group in the varsity girls’ league this year.
But it was in enduro that Smith really found her home.
Smith started racing enduro in 2017, a step that would eventually lead her to huge successes. Enduro is a category of mountain bike racing somewhere between cross country and downhill. Like downhill racing, riders are timed on a series of technical descents instead of the climbs, and whoever has the quickest time overall wins. Unlike downhill racing, though, enduro riders don’t get shuttled back up to the tops of each descent. This makes for several hour races, in which the racers can sometimes ride up to 40 miles in a single day.
Smith absolutely loves it.
“I was just planning on doing one race but then ended up continuing with it,” said Smith. “In enduro people are more chill and laid-back. They’re there for the fun. You also end up seeing people at different stages and every race and you get to know people super well.”
Enduro’s technicality is as unique as its community. Smith regularly rides incredibly rocky, rooty and steep trails, putting her safety on the line as she rides down big drops and goes up to 45 miles-per-hour on the straightaways. Despite the few crashes she’s had, she loves the challenge of difficult trails, holding steady to the motto of “the more technical, the better.”
Because of her success in enduro, Smith ended up joining the Juliana Bikes ambassador team, representing them at races and riding their bikes. With support from the team and her friends, she went on to finish in third place at the Mammoth Enduro race and get second overall in the series. It’s a huge step for the young cyclist— and one that will hopefully propel her into the 2019 professional season after last year’s great junior results.
Young women like Smith — fearless, dedicated and unafraid to work hard for their dreams — are paving the path for the next generation of female athletes. Because of riders like her, future women mountain bikers will have more opportunities in this slowly equalizing sport to go faster, race harder and be more brave than ever before.
Mina Ricci is a freelance writer who contributes to The Union.